We’d heard news that the city was flooded with refugees seeking asylum from war-torn Syria. Everyone I spoke to was persuading me not to go to Budapest. But I had roots there, and I’d never been as to close to it as I was then. It was only a 7-hour train ride from Prague, so I decided to go.
The roots I’m talking about are through my grandfather on my mother’s side. I never met him, but I feel like I’ve known him all my life, through the stories I’ve heard and through the music–the Hungarian violin and the old gypsy csárdás which are a type of folk dance native to Hungary, made popular long ago by the Romani gypsies.
Here I was now, years later, paying homage to my own gypsy blood, riding a train and vagabonding through Europe for close to a month already, finally making my way to a place that felt like my homeland in more ways than one. I had similar feelings going to Madrid just a few weeks prior, with respect to my dad’s ancestry and my eagerness to dig the native flamenco music and the classical guitar.
On both sides of my family, whether it takes me to Castilla or Budapest, it seems I’m guided by the music and that unrelenting thirst for movement and experience. The unspoken tenets in the life of a gypsy. That’s me, as it always has been. For better or worse, I think it always will be.
As my train pulled in I looked out the window and caught my first sights of the city. I’ll admit, I half-expected to see angry mobs storming the train station for no reason other than to raise hell, like it was the Bastille at the start of the Revolution. Yet as we pulled in to the station, I looked out and saw nothing particularly remarkable.
The station was quiet, and nearly empty. I stepped outside and saw fellow passengers leaving the train, some being greeted by friends and loved ones. I saw a few kids hanging out by the cafe and a few more outside the station, skateboarding around the courtyard.
Whatever chaos had been unfolding in the preceding days and weeks had gone now, if it was ever there to begin with. I thought for a moment about the media and it’s tendency toward sensationalism, to ignore other news for the sake of news that will keep us interested. Whether that had been the case in Budapest, I couldn’t be sure. However things went down, it appeared the refugees had now either moved on, moved back, or disappeared into the city, blending in with everyone else. They were just people, of course, with the same basic needs and aspirations as the rest of us.
The more I considered that, the more I considered those qualities which truly defined a country. Was it borders, or something less tangible? Something not quite as fixed as it was consistently in motion, rooted in it’s history but always vulnerable to change by the passage of time or by the influence of an outside world, one that can never be kept outside for too long.
If the latter was true, then I figured countries were but a macrocosm of the human experience, which would ultimately make borders something of an illusion.
I hoisted my bag over my shoulder and stepped out onto the streets myself, the sky turning a bright pink as the sun set behind the hills and day faded into evening. The air had grown cool. I could hear a violin somewhere not too far away.